The perils of living in Wayne's world

John Edwards

Last updated at 00:00 24 October 2003

WAYNE Rooney has smartened up in more ways than one since the night a loosely-knotted tie became the talk of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in London almost a year ago.

If a wonder goal against Arsenal a few months earlier portrayed him as a natural showman, the sight of a first major honour being conferred on him at just turned 17 painted a different picture.

Shifting from foot to foot and chewing incessantly on a stick of gum, contact between tie and collar had long since been lost as he listened nervously to the plaudits that went with his Young Personality of the Year trophy.

Even with Everton manager David Moyes by his side, the kid from Croxteth could hardly have looked more out of place among the black ties and starch formality.

An outcry over his appearance followed and it is remembered with a wry smile by those who have monitored countless instances of Rooney fitting the Identikit of a typical teenage tearaway. But today, as he turns 18, Rooney recognises the responsibilities that accompany global stardom.

While his last-minute winner against David Seaman made the football world sit up and take notice, his existence continued to revolve around a cramped council house in Croxteth and convening on street corners with childhood pals.

The sudden rise to celebrity status initially failed to register on the Rooney psyche, and neighbours in and around Stockbridge Lane frequently saw football's most famous teenager queueing up for fish and chips before joining his friends on a nearby wall to devour the contents.

There were even shades of Paul Gascoigne's refuelling excesses as the switchboard at Goodison Park fielded numerous calls from anxious Everton followers who had spotted the Rooney entourage at various city centre haunts.

Moyes investigated them all, aware that a taste for lager had developed a little earlier than the law permits and eager to check the veracity of his informants' accounts by monitoring Rooney's weight weekly.

Everton's disciplinarian boss always stressed, though, that he wanted the growing-up process to be as near to normal as possible and, while at odds with Rooney's advisers over plans for a lavish 18th birthday bash, there have been few grounds for genuine concern.

According to those in daily contact with the England striker, he has wised up to the pitfalls of his newfound status and become aware of the need for a cautious approach to venturing out, so much so that the hotline that once buzzed with tales of indiscretions has been silent since before the start of the season.

He remains painfully shy, even with team-mates but, with the help of family and girlfriend Colleen, has learned how to pursue a normal teenager's interests without inviting unwanted attention.

A driving licence makes travel less conspicuous behind the frosted glass of his sporty new car, while home provides a degree of seclusion following a move up the property ladder to a detached house in Sandfield Park, West Derby. So close is he with Colleen that there is even talk of them setting up home together in Formby.

There is little evidence of Rooney being tripped up by fame's trappings.

True to his roots, he has already attracted complaints from neighbours by belting a ball noisily and repeatedly against a wall.

He has also maintained close links with the Merseyside boxing scene. His 15- year old brother Graham remains a member of Croxteth ABC and Wayne has been a front-row spectator at shows in Ellesmere Port and Widnes in recent weeks.

If that does not hearten Moyes in his efforts to keep Rooney's feet on the ground, the sight of Wayne standing unnoticed in the background while top prospect Graham is confronted by autograph hunters certainly should. It happened after the Widnes bout and, with youngest brother John showing signs of following in Wayne's footsteps, underlined the depth of sporting talent in the Rooney ranks.

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